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POURS FOR THOUGHT: How sustainable is your daily caffeine fix?

Coffee drinkers in the UK consume around 95 million cups of coffee a day at home, work and on-the-go. 80% of UK households buy instant coffee for home consumption (BCA).

Coffee culture in Britain has seen an astronomical rise in the last decade alongside new behaviours of brunching and ‘going out’ for breakfast. The recent rise has been vital for the resurgence of independents as consumers seek alternatives to the standard roasts of global café chains, complete with latte art from hipster baristas.

We are slowly but surely moving away from the British stereotype of tea drinking. A classic Builders’ brew is becoming harder to find. But what does this behavior change mean? What impacts does it have? 42 coffee beans are required for an espresso, but how do they end up being run through a coffee machine, or sat at the bottom of your favourite mug as a freeze-dried instant product?

As coffee lovers ourselves, the Mainer Associate team have brainstormed together to give you some ideas to ponder over the next time you’re eagerly anticipating your pre-work caffeine.

However you like your coffee, this is important!

The Beans

Most coffee beans consumed in the UK are produced in South America and where you, or the place of your daily coffee stop, get their coffee beans from is very important, right down to the specific farm! The decision is loaded with multiple environmental issues.

Coffee was traditionally grown under natural shaded canopy where farmers worked around current vegetation rather than removing it. The contemporary demand for coffee has seen this method be brushed aside for sun cultivation techniques. Farmers remove current vegetation to create monoculture plantations and use fertilisers to enhance yields, at the cost of bio diversity.

To make a sustainability conscious decision about the beans in your coffee you can make sure they are sourced from farms accredited to certification schemes. Fairtrade and Rain forest Alliance are the big two.

Fairtrade focus on the ethical aspects of coffee production, ensuring a fair price for farmers and investing in local communities.

Rain Forest Alliance ensure the growers are a certified Sustainable Agricultural Network, forbidding deforestation and championing methods to maintain ecosystems.

A third option is Soil Association certified coffee beans. This scheme ensures the beans are grown under organic conditions without the use of fertilisers.

Look out for these certification schemes the next time you buy coffee!

Ground Vs Freeze Dried 

80% of UK households purchase instant coffee for consumption in the home (BCA), but what processes are involved in getting the coffee in this form? – the process is certainly not instant!

All coffee beans are initially roasted between 150o c and 250o c depending on the type of roast buyers want.

For freeze dried coffee, manufacturers receive roasted coffee beans. From here, the beans undergo a range of treatments that involve energy intensive heating and cooling and consumption of water.

Extraction: the beans are ground and passed through pipes of heated and pressurized water.

Filtration and concentration: Coffee is treated to increase concentration. It is either separated with a centrifuge, removing water through evaporation, or freezing the water content and mechanically separating the coffee concentrate.

Recovery: During previous processes, aromas that are vital to flavor are lost. These can be captured and passed through the coffee with steam. Alternatively, oxygen is removed from the coffee extract by foaming other gases such as CO2 to preserve aromas.

Dehydration: The final process returns the coffee extract to a dry form. For spray drying, air is heated to around 250oc to remove the majority of water content. Freeze drying involves freezing the extract to -40oc and cutting the solid substance into pieces before grinding it into particles of appropriate size. They then experience a heat vacuum vaporising the ice. (madehow)

Finally, further aromas are then spray back on to the dried product.

Instant coffee is therefore hugely consumer-centric, it’s all about convenience for us. However, consider all these energy and water consuming steps in the process when you’re next making the family brews!

A top tip when drinking instant coffee at home – only boil the water you need. Small changes help make bigger ones.

Waste

The rise in the coffee consumption has also led to increased awareness in the waste produced from our new habits. Like a lot of industries, coffee is very linear. But, efforts from producers, sellers and consumers can turn coffee waste into a resource.

For those with coffee grinders in the home, spent coffee beans can be placed in green food bins or used in your own compost.

Even large companies are starting make the coffee industry more circular. Douwe Egberts use 33,000 tons of spent coffee grounds per year in the production of their instant products to fuel a biomass boiler that produces steam for the treatment processes (Veolia).

Also, with coffee, think plastic! Does your machine at home use plastic coffee pods? Or do you get your daily coffee on-the-go in a takeaway cup? Using a reusable ‘keep-cup’ is a fantastic way to completely remove this waste from your consumption and most high street chains give you money off! The UK throws away 2.5billion unrecyclable coffee cups a year (Environmental Audit Committee). Consumers have a critical role in changing this.

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